I was interviewed on a podcast earlier this week. We got talking about risks and how risks can be structured in such a way that there’s no downside. I mean, there’s a downside — there has to be or it’s not really a risk — but the downside can have a big upside.
The trick is to align your risk taking with what you’re really all about, with your core values. By doing that, if you succeed, fantastic; and if you fail, you just earned a story that can be leveraged to build a robust culture.
For instance, I performed a song parody at Xerocon this year. I took Bonnie Tyler’s song “Holding Out For A Hero” — you know, the song from Footloose when Kevin Bacon played a game of chicken in a tractor against the bad guy — and I changed it to “Holding Out For Xero.” I know, it sounds stupid to me, too.
Performing that song was one of those risks where it was either going to be an amazing success, or it was going to be a horrible turd. There was no third option. I’m not that musical, and I found out that I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes giving a rousing musical performance. But the risk was perfectly aligned with my core values. It was perfectly aligned with my “why.”
You see, I create value by making boring crap funny, and fortunately train wrecks are pretty funny. So either it would be funny because the song went to plan and people thought it was comedy genius, or it would be funny because I would die a long, painful, public death.
But there’s another reason why a fail would have still been a win for me. Failing while striving for your “why” creates a story. If I had failed after taking the time to plan, write, rehearse, memorize, and perform the song, it would have been a demonstration that I believe that what I do is incredibly valuable. I’m willing to be demoralized in pursuit of making boring crap funny because that’s how important it is to me to make boring crap funny.
If I had failed, I would still be able to sit around with my comedy buddies and tell them the story of how I died onstage — sacrificed myself to the comedy god. Why? Because what I do is valuable and it’s worth it. I can talk to people in Thriveal and people in VeraSage, people who know me and love me and believe in me, and tell them my train wreck stories. They get it; they see and understand that my failed risk is a public demonstration of my belief in the value of what I do.
My repeated willingness to face failure is proof that what I do makes a difference in the world.
So back to the podcast. One of the hosts asked me how people can structure the risk that is inherent in selling in a similar way, in a way where even failure is success.
There are three main components necessary to properly structure the risk of selling. The first is all about play. When you go into a sales meeting, go in ready to play. Either take the mindset of an athlete, thinking about how you are going to actively defeat your opponent. (And by the way, the person you’re selling to isn’t your opponent. The person you’re selling to is in the stands. They really want you to create value. Your opponent is the empty void of entropy.) Or take the mindset of an artist, focusing on how your artful selling is going to stir emotions within the person you are selling to. Or take on the mindset of a hooligan, plotting subversive ways you can play throughout the selling process to keep it fun for you and for your potential customer. (And here you must also realize that you’re not trying to subvert your customer or subvert your pitch. You are subverting the expected sales process with the intention of making it more engaging to everyone involved.)
One way or another, you need to play. The reason you play is to lean into the risk. Play is the best way to acknowledge and honor and be mindfully present to the risk.
Second, you have to viscerally understand why taking this risk is important to you. Do you truly and honestly believe that the services you provide make a difference in the world?
Finally, you have to have a community to whom you can return to share your story. Let’s say you’re a caveman and you go out and kill a lion. If you’re the only one in the cave, it’s swell that you killed that lion. You protected yourself and you got some meat and a pelt out of it. Super. But if you bring it back to your tribe, you’re a damn hero. Conversely, if you just barely escaped a run in with a lion and go back to an empty cave, nobody gives a crap. But if that happens and you go back to a tribe, then people who are important to you connect with your harrowing story of escape.
The problem for a lot of sole proprietors is that they keep coming back to an empty cave. If that’s you, maybe Thriveal is the tribe you need. Thriveal is a community of countercultural, entrepreneurial accountants. It’s a place where you can come and share both your successes and failures as you consistently take risks — sales risks or any other kind.
We’re super interested when you kill a lion, and we may even be more interested when you just barely get away.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Utah, but manages to make it to Greenville, SC once a year to emcee Deeper Weekend. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.